Combating Persistent Poverty

A panel of public policy experts discussed state and city government work and stressed the need to expand it into a general trend.



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“We need to make this not just a moment but a movement,” said Mike Laracy, coordinator for public policy at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, about state and local government efforts to combat poverty. He delivered the opening statements to a two-panel event at the Center for American Progress Action Fund on Monday.

The first panel, a national overview of state and local work, featured four poverty experts who reiterated the need for a movement that would expand the reach of individual poverty work to a larger scale. Joy Moses, policy analyst with the Poverty and Prosperity program at Center for American Progress, talked about the progress of the Half in Ten Campaign and its four main issue areas: expanding the earned income tax credit and child tax credit, raising the minimum wage, and expanding access to quality childcare. The group has also been working to extend unemployment insurance benefits during the current period of high unemployment and address predatory lending as it relates to the home mortgage crisis.

She also stressed the importance of the connections between the Half in Ten partner organizations, grassroots groups, and government officials. “Folks can jointly discuss the problems,” Moses said, and that could help formulate solutions.

Susan Golonka, program director for human services at the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, talked about the summits, briefs, and meetings being instituted to support and encourage the anti-poverty efforts of governors. This “springboard” serves to broaden the interest in the issue.

“States are actually using the word poverty,” she said.

Jodie Levin-Epstein, deputy director of the Center for Law and Social Policy, spoke about the efforts of one of the event co-sponsors, Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity. The organization surveyed state governments about their anti-poverty initiatives and documented the information in a recently released report. She discussed the trend of state and local governments establishing anti-poverty commissions (20 states have done so thus far), the targets set to encourage action, the big-tent approach, and the need for time.

“Poverty and opportunity have been invisible [in the past],” Levin-Epstein said. “We are at a political turning point.”

Cliff Johnson, the executive director of the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families at the National League of Cities, discussed income disparity and city-led efforts to combat poverty. “City leaders understand persistent inequality is a threat,” he said. Johnson also emphasized the need to work with private organizations and all levels of government in order to make a difference.

The second panel, moderated by Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund Mark Greenberg, featured people who are directly involved in state and local government efforts to end poverty. They differed in their progress and their goals.

Veronica White, executive director of the Center for Economic Opportunity in New York City, discussed the 1.5 million residents in poverty, and the targeted, neighborhood-based programs combating poverty. She stressed the value of the city’s method of measuring poverty that, unlike the federal poverty measure, takes into account the value of government benefits and the costs of living expenses such as housing. “You want to measure what you’re doing,” she said, in order to know how useful it can be.

Gregory Gray, director of the Legislative Commission to End Poverty in Minnesota by 2020, explained his state’s approach toward ending poverty. Although Minnesota has instituted a number of progressive policies to benefit poor and low-income households, there are significant pockets of poverty, and the Legislative Commission took listening tours around the state to understand the plight of the poverty-stricken. Because the movement was initially faith-based, they were able to “look at [poverty] like it can be ended,” he said.

Connecticut State Senator Jonathan Harris, chair of the Human Services Committee, also discussed the dichotomy between pockets of wealth and poverty in his state. This “moral outrage and fiscal necessity” prompted legislation to reduce child poverty by 50 percent by 2014, which he described as evidence-based and cost-effective.

Amy Rynell, program director of the Heartland Alliance in Illinois, finished off the second panel by talking about deep poverty legislation that unanimously passed the House side of the Illinois legislature. As poor people get poorer, the urgency increases, she said.

“Our political stalemate required louder voices,” Rynell said.

Even as Americans face financial uncertainly, a rising cost of living, and an overall economic downturn, these growing numbers of state and local governments are launching their anti-poverty initiatives.

“Opportunity has come of age,” Laracy said.

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